My ass in that bed

Oscar, age 83. He died two years later. [Gretchen Lord Anderson photo]

Terry’s dad had been in declining health for some time. The docs didn’t really know what was ailing him. He was 85 years old and perhaps they decided that that, along with a lifetime of smoking, was enough explanation. But it would have been nice to know.

He had been a sharecropper his entire life. He and Marguerite brought the two boys up on a farm they never owned. It was south of Brookings, S.D. They always had a water pump in the house, as I recall, but the water had to be heated on the stove – for everything from baths to laundry. When Terry brought me home for the first time, they had begun working on a bathroom so I didn’t have to go to the outhouse in the cold, but showering was something I would enjoy on later visits. Still, I never got the feeling that indoor “facilities” were high on either of their to-do lists.

Oscar was an independent son-of-a-gun. I could still detect some Norwegian accent in his speech, acquired from his parents and other relatives no doubt as Oscar was born in the good old USA. But as independent as he was, he enjoyed his home, his chair by the oil burner, Marguerite’s excellent cooking, and being able to go to bed at a decent hour like 7:30 or 8 and be up before the rooster at 4:30.

So when his health got to a point where he needed to be in a hospital in Sioux Falls, Oscar was none too keen about it. He just wanted to go home.

Terry recalls one day as he entered his dad’s hospital room, Oscar was sitting up in the chair next to the bed. The older man, obviously confused, eyed his son and said, “Are you my dad?” Apparently, there was a great family resemblance.

“No,” Terry said. “I’m your son. I’m Terry.”

And then Terry had a sense that this might be the golden opportunity to have that conversation with his father for which he had always yearned. A talk about deeper things. A time of sharing between father and son and vice versa. A chance to ask his dad questions about affairs of the family, beliefs, motivations, the heart. He thought his dad might tell him something about his concern for his wife of 52 years or even what it might be like to be facing final days, weeks, or months. Maybe his dad might even share some eternal truths with the younger son. So he pulled a chair up closer to his dad and looked at him. A few moments of silence passed.

Then Terry said to his father, “What are you thinking about?”

Oscar pointed to the bed and responded without hesitation, “I’m thinking about my ass in that bed.”

Terry moved to get assistance, but he said he felt as though all of the wind had been taken from his sails.

Oscar and Marguerite at their 50th wedding anniversary celebration in 1987. [Gretchen Lord Anderson photo]

Terry and I both had older parents. His dad was born in 1904. His mom and my dad were born in 1911. My mom in 1912. Our parents were either pushing 40 or over 40 when each of us was born in the early ‘50s. We’ve talked a bit about the advantages and disadvantages of having older parents, that is, older than the parents of most of our classmates. They were on average 10 to 20 years older than others they might meet at PTA meetings. Makes us wonder how they felt about it. I know I heard my dad tell my mom one time that someone asked him if my little brother and I were his grandchildren.

My dad wasn’t out shooting hoops with us when we were kids, but he put in a concrete basketball court and built the standard. Terry’s dad wasn’t leading a 4-H club, but he taught Terry enough about raising pigs so that his son could bring him purple ribbon after purple ribbon from 4-H competitions.

We both agree that having older parents brought us a wisdom about life and people.

But the Scandinavian in both men and the times in which they were raised had taught them never to share their feelings, to “buck up,” to the travails of life, to see the relationship with their spouses as clearly aligned with “men’s work” and “women’s work.” However the two of us became able to be more open with one another, it did not come from our fathers.

Oscar during one of his more impish moments. I never saw a lot of those. [Gretchen Lord Anderson photo]

This business about wanting to have a deeper conversation with his dad goes two ways. At least Terry was open to it. I recall when I was home visiting one time and Mom had adjourned to bed, my dad and I were sitting at the kitchen table. He started to talk with me about the need for me to be attentive to Mom “when I’m gone.” I didn’t want to talk about that. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk about Mom, but I didn’t want to face that my dad was saying to me, “I’m not going to around much longer.” I missed that golden opportunity that Terry had been searching to have with his own dad. Within months, my dad died. We never had that talk. Now I wish I would have at least assured him that I would be there for her and that I was.

I look at so many fathers today and I’m envious of the relationship they have with their children. They are deeply involved in their lives, they attend school activities without grumbling, at least without grumbling in front of the children. And, I wonder, will they be able and willing to have those conversations of deeper and perhaps eternal truths with one another as they all grow older together?

I wouldn’t trade my parents for any others nor would Terry trade his. The four of them instilled in us a life history that most of our classmates would never know in such a personal way. We know more of what it meant to pull oneself up by the bootstraps because our parents came of age before the Great Depression. But we also know that our parents did everything they could to spare us the distress of empty pockets or if anything might be scrounged up for supper. We were encouraged to get the college educations they could never afford. And they all four sacrificed to make certain that happened.

I wonder a lot of stuff about my dad just as Terry wonders about his. We’ll never get those answers. But what we do have is a certain knowledge that without saying they loved us, we know they did.

And we know, that sometimes the most important thing they we can think about is “my ass in that bed.”


“Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves.” – Genesis 37:3

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